Parents, activists call for equity in Charleston County schools

A group of parents and activists raised concerns to the Charleston County School Board Monday regarding issues of educational inequities and race in the county’s schools.

Amid the discussions surrounding race and the shooting of Walter Scott, some community activists want to continue the momentum to address concerns about diversity and educational inequalities in Charleston County’s public schools.

A group of parents, students and activists attended the Charleston County School Board meeting Monday to raise awareness about what they feel is a lack of action by the board and school district regarding issues of race and equity.

Parent Charlisa Pugh, who has been pushing for more diversity at Academic Magnet High School, said her “encouragement is diminishing” regarding the work of a new school district task force addressing issues of diversity, saying she worried about whether the group’s recommendations, which must be approved by the school board, will be implemented.

“Where does the district leadership come into play when making decisions on how to run the schools and how to implement diversity into our schools?” Pugh asked rhetorically. “Is that not the job of our superintendent?”

Pastor Thomas Dixon, who heads the group The Coalition — People United To Take Back Our Community, told the board that the city of North Charleston is facing a crisis in the wake of Scott’s death because officials ignored warnings that they needed to address issues surrounding race.

Scott, who was black, was shot and killed by white North Charleston Patrolman Michael T. Slager on April 4 as he fled a traffic stop. Slager was fired and charged with murder.

“They ignored the voice of the people,” Dixon said.

That same pattern is leading to similar racial tensions surrounding perceived inequities in the county’s schools, Dixon said.

“Education assassination is just as equal,” he said. “Please listen.”

A handful of other people addressed the board on similar concerns while a group of around 15 people sat in the audience holding signs reading “Listen up! We will not be silenced” and “Quality education is a constitutional right.”

Prior to Dixon and others speaking, Acting Superintendent Michael Bobby acknowledged the district has been grappling with issues of diversity in recent months.

Bobby was alluding to the Academic Magnet High School football team’s racially charged postgame victory ritual last year of chanting and smashing watermelons with caricature faces. Former Superintendent Nancy McGinley resigned amid criticism by some over the district’s firing and rehiring of the football coach.

On Monday, Bobby called for unity instead of pointing fingers in the wake of Scott’s shooting.

“We have to support one another as we move forward in the days ahead,” he said.

The school district is in the process of hiring an executive director of diversity and inclusion. Bobby said the district has received more than 100 applications for the position and hopes to have the post filled within 45 days.

A task force of parents, school administrators and community members is also evaluating issues of diversity, and educational access and opportunities, particularly within the district’s magnet schools. A group of students from each of the school district’s high schools is also involved in the effort.

“I am completely confident that although we’re dealing with difficult topics that, at the end of the day, we’re going to see great success,” Bobby said.

The board approved a $20,000 contract with the South Carolina School Boards Association to move forward with a national superintendent search to hire the school district’s next leader. The board could incur up to $10,000 in additional fees for search-related expenses. The contract calls for an application deadline of May 15. A new superintendent could be in place as soon as July 1.